In the eighth Bertrand McAbee mystery, McCaffrey’s (The Marksman’s Case, 2008, etc.) classics professor turned detective returns to unearth the forgotten secrets of the Byzantine Empire.
Stricken with terminal cancer, elderly Greek–American Alexei Kostadelos entrusts McAbee with an unusual mission: travel to Mt. Athos in Greece to pry some sensitive information out of Father Nicholas, a reclusive monk. Years ago when Alexei and Nicholas fought together in the Greek resistance against the occupying Nazis, they discovered a secret about the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Is it possible that the Byzantine emperor was not killed in the famous siege but instead took to the underground? With Alexei dying and Nicholas old and frail, this history-changing revelation is in danger of being lost to time unless scholarly McAbee can uncover proof in the form of artifacts buried on the island of Lesbos. He finds assistance in Jack, a shady, paranoid former military operative he employs for dirty work and muscle, and in Alexei’s niece, Yota, a temperamental archaeology professor with whom McAbee develops a subtle flirtation. A mysterious German with a decades-old connection to Alexei and a shadowy group of Romanian monks complicate matters. The genial, bookish McAbee finds himself in a world of intrigue, ruthlessness and covert action, circumstances that add depth to his character. It also provides some low-key comic moments: McAbee has a habit of fretting over his supply of digestive cookies and wandering off to visit museums and relics that have nothing to do with his mission. Yet McAbee’s curiosity combined with his iron-willed determination makes it unwise to underestimate him. The book feels most alive when it’s firmly in McAbee’s wheelhouse—studying documents on Constantinople, noting with interest the intricacies of Greek history and national character, and delving into the murky relations between the monks at Mt. Athos. When the novel turns to Jack’s action-oriented area of expertise, things feel a bit more perfunctory. Even so, McCaffrey’s mystery thrills with well-drawn characters, solid procedural details and strong storytelling.
Historical intrigue and well-narrated suspense make this adventure an absorbing mystery.
Classy ex-classics professor Bertrand McAbee and his multicultural mystery-solving posse go the distance with a former military sniper turned vigilante in the fourth book of McCaffrey’s (A Byzantine Case, 2010, etc.) reliable detective series.
After a failed black op in Kuwait circa 2006, the arrogant, unstable Marine Sergeant Alex Love finally snaps. The sharpshooter’s increasingly violent outbursts result in a full honorable discharge at 100-percent disability for psychiatric reasons. Love’s career and reputation are ruined, and the rest of his life is, too, since he knows far too much about American covert activities in the Middle East to ever be free of government surveillance. So he decides to “die”—if only statistically. The calm yet delusional veteran carefully crafts an array of false identities before faking his death and becoming an avenging angel on a mission to rid the world of lowlife scum—including assorted criminals and pretty much anyone else he dislikes. Unlike the real-life, random 2002 Beltway sniper attacks, which this story in some ways recalls, Love specifically (and literally) targets his kills. By the novel’s midpoint, Love has 99 notches in his rifle’s stock and the police haven’t a clue. Enter professor-turned-PI McAbee, at the behest of a staple of detective fiction: a grieving widow. With his diverse crew of allies backing him up, each with useful skills involving brains, brawn and/or technological savvy, McAbee is soon on the trail of the assassin. Aficionados of the genre will adore the author’s clever handling of familiar tropes (including, for example, his depiction of a nerdy genius character with limited social skills). One highlight is the sassy, steely Augusta Satin, the canny detective’s protégé and possible love interest; with her on the scene, it’s easy to miss the multimillion-dollar cache of blood diamonds that becomes the focus of the plot.
An entertaining mystery, although not one for the gun-shy.
In this installment of the Bertrand McAbee Mystery series, the former classics professor and current private investigator is drawn into a cold case of theft and murder that spans generations and continents and finds roots in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
When a colleague dies on a lonely road late at night under questionable circumstances, McAbee’s investigation turns up links to local thugs, the Chicago Mafia and even World War I war criminals. And as he untangles the web, McAbee discovers that at the heart of it all lies a priceless, jewel-encrusted Hapsburg heirloom—commissioned by the Archduke himself and not seen in almost 100 years—that, incredibly, may be hidden away in the state of Ohio, or may not exist at all. McAbee, a likable, albeit conflicted protagonist, goes out of his way to defy the hardboiled gumshoe stereotype: he drinks nonalcoholic beer, eschews the advances of beautiful women and steadfastly refuses to carry a gun, even when faced with obvious mortal danger. Given all this, one might reasonably expect a cerebral sequence in which McAbee shows his detective chops and gathers evidence, utilizes all his powers of observation to connect the dots and solves the mystery while the police are still scrambling to keep up. Instead, McAbee calls in a crack team of former SEALs to illegally and brutally torture information out of suspects by administering shocks to their nether-regions. He gets answers, but Sherlock Holmes he is not—this solution feels a bit unsatisfying and contrived. The hypocrisy is glaring, and one character briefly calls him out on it, but the reader never gets a straight answer about this contradiction, or an explanation of why an aging college professor has ready access to a torture-happy version of the A-Team. In McAbee we have a hero who won’t carry a gun for moralistic reasons, yet has no problem outsourcing torture. Despite this uneven characterization, McCaffrey (Scholarly Executions, 2005, etc.) keeps the plot moving at a good clip, ramping up tension while McAbee manages the diverse and bickering group of characters that comprises his investigative team. While the story takes place in the present day, the author utilizes flashbacks with several characters to 1914 pre-war Austria, 1920s Italy and the gangland Chicago of the ’40s to gradually parcel out all the clues.
The pre-WWI historical background and international intrigue distinguish this gripping and at times addictive mystery from the standard whodunits.